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Practical Steps We Can Take to Save Our Climate

by Tom Ellis

Ed. Note: Here is the PowerPoint for the lecture. We are working on getting the audio from the lecture online in the coming weeks.

ALBANY, NY: Tina Lieberman and Bill Reinhardt spoke remotely at an Earth Day April 20 SPB meeting about practical steps we can take to reduce carbon emissions and save our climate.

Lynne introduced the program and Carole Waterman the speakers.

Tina spoke first, then Bill, each then took turns, with finally a discussion attendees joined in.

Tina is the Vice-Chair of the Albany Sustainability Advisory Committee. Bill is an Albany County legislator and Co-Chair of Solarize Albany. Tina and Bill are founding chairs of the Capital District Community Energy, Inc.

Tina said the NYS Energy Research and Development Authority (ERDA) has a Clean Energy Communities program.

The City of Albany, she said, conducted a greenhouse gas inventory that determined buildings, transportation, and electricity contributed 40, 37, and 12 percent, respectively to the city’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

She said the 2019 NYS Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA) provides benchmarks to achieve GHG reductions from 1990 levels of 40 percent by 2030 and 85 percent by 2050.

Tina said three organizations offer programs and options for homeowners to solarize their homes: Community Solar, Expanded Solar For All, Solarize Albany. Bill mentioned the 26 percent federal tax credit for systems installed 2020-2022 and said New York has a 25 percent tax credit up to $5000. Information can be found at solarizealbany.org.

Bill said electrifying homes and transportation will lead to overall increased electricity use unless we vastly increase energy efficiency. He said free home energy audits are available (heatsmartcapitalregion.com) and one program with income limits for participants will pay 100 percent of costs up to $10,000.

Bill said 70 percent of the energy produced worldwide is lost as waste heat. He said home heat pump conversions should incentivize the needs of tenants and ground source heat pumps are much more efficient than air source heat pumps. Incentivies vary by utility, he said, for heat pump water heaters.

Tina discussed electrification of appliances saying induction cooktops have no harmful fumes or particulate matter, allow for faster cooking, stove surfaces do not heat up, and there are no open flames.

She said heat pump dryers are 30-50 percent more efficient than exisiting models, dry clothes at lower temperatures but takes longer to do so, and reuse air. Tina said LED lighting uses one-tenth the electricity of incandescents and one-third that of compact fluorescents. She said National Grid is marketing smart thermostats.

Other ways to reduce GHG emissions, Tina said, are to wash clothes in cold water, seal around windows and doors, drive less, plan trips, and use public transit. Plug electronics into power strips and turn off the strips when not in use to eliminate energy use when the electronics are turned off.

She said electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are eligible for federal tax credits up to $7500, and New York has a $2000 rebate. Some vehicles, she said, have up to a 300 mile range in warm weather but less in winter or if the air conditioner is on. EV have fewer moving parts, are more expensive to purchase, but may cost less over the life of the vehicle compared to gas-powered cars.

Tina said food wastes generate eleven percent of GHG emissions in the US and have many costs: water, labor, time, energy, packaging. People can buy less, donate left overs, and compost the rest. Compost is Black Gold — the best fertilizer, she said. Tina said increasing numbers of free compost drop-off sites are available and The Radix Center and Food Scraps 360 have programs.

Bill discussed reducing agricultural GHG emissions. He urged people to consider eating less meat and dairy, and more vegetables; buy and grow local, grow your own, and do not let perfection become the enemy of the good.

Tina urged listeners to consult the Zero Waste Capital District website for ideas. Bill said calculating and minimizing miles food travels is complicated. An 18-wheeler may be more efficient than a pick-up truck. He said the globalization of supply chains has failed to prevent wars, globalization as a model is dying, localization is the future.

During the questions and comments, Mark Schaeffer said tenants get the benefits of weatherization while landlords endure the costs. Bill responded that split incentives are an issue, but weatherized apartments become more attractive for tenants. Bill said there is a critical role for government in solving GHG problems in multifamily and new construction. New York City, he said, has enacted laws to electrify new construction and similar laws will appear elsewhere. Existing boilers, he said, will be replaced with electric models and regulations will be needed to achieve GHG goals.

Lynne Jackson asked about retrofitting 120-year-old house buildings broken into small apartments. Bill responded that geothermal systems are usually whole building units where heat from the ground is transferred into air ducts. He said contractors can use Google to examine buildings prior to arriving on site, and, with heat pumps, and through-the-window air conditioners are not needed.

The Sheridan Hollow neighborhood, he said, is being considered for a community wide geothermal system and the economics can make sense if multiple buildings are done together. The up-front costs are large but cleaner air results when old boilers are replaced. He said a geothermal district would likely need to be created legally.

Tina said e-bikes and e-scooters are becoming more common. Bill said charging EV remains a problem for people without driveways or garages but some charge at their work sites. One person said he knows someone who charges an EV overnight at no cost and can then dirve 200 miles for less than $1.

Bill said charging wireless plates may soon allow vehicles to automatically take electricity from the plate while parked or while driving on plated roads. He said many European cities are compatible for bicycles, and e-bikes allow people to keep riding as they age. He said e-bikes will become more popular in US cities as will ride share e-bikes.

Mark Schaeffer said CDTA will soon have electric scooters. He said the climate crisis is a global emergency, a Code Red for humanity, and a point of no return is approaching if we do not soon act; we are driving in a fog toward a cliff we cannot see and we have 25 years to transform our planet’s economy. Mark said NYS spends $39 billion annually on imported fuels and we need to retrofit every building by 2030.

Tina said ours is the final generation to have a stable climate.